tv Washington Week PBS June 15, 2012 8:00pm-8:30pm PDT
gwen: big news on immigration. the justice department under fire. candidates hit the road and tensions with russia. tonight on "washington week." >> effective immediately, the department of homeland security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people. gwen: the president plays his immigration trump card, using executive power to allowed undocumented youth to stay in the u.s. >> in when it comes to grand theft or amnesty, nearly 1 million people. he says it's temporary but we all know better. gwen: acting on principle or picking a fight. the justice department under fire. >> mr. attorney general, it's more with sorrow then regret and anger that i would say you leave me no alternative to join those
that call upon you to resign your office. >> there's something factually wrong with the premises you started your statement with -- it's almost breathtaking. i don't have any intention of resigning. gwen: the candidates square off in battleground ohio. >> if you want to give the policies of the last decade another try, then you should vote for mr. romney. >> don't forget, he's been president for 3 1/2 years. and talk is cheap. action speaks very loud. gwen: and as syria falls apart, u.s. russian relations fray as well. covering the week, pierre thomas of abc news, tom gjelten of npr, karen tumulty of "the washington post" and peter baker of "the new york times." >> live from our nation's capitol, this is "washington
week" with gwen ifill. produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> a line is a powerful thing. it connects the global economy to your living room. cleaner air to stronger markets, factory floors to less crowded roads. today's progress to tomorrow's promise. norfolk summit, one line, infinite possibilities. >> we know why we're here, to connect our forces to what they need when they need it. >> to help troops see danger before it sees them. >> to answer the call of the brave and bring them safely home. >> around the globe, the people of boeing are working together
to support and protect all who serve. >> that's why we're here. >> corporate funding is also provided by -- prudential financial, at&t, rethink possible. additional funding is provided by the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to pbs stations from viewers like you. thank you. once again, live from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. the president took matters into his own hands today, moving to allow noncitizen students and graduates under 30 to avoid deportation. it's a version of the dream act, which stalls in congress last year but has become for now the leading immigration issue. >> the bill hasn't really changed.
the need hasn't changed. it's still the right thing to do. the only thing that has changed apparently was the politics. it makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are americans. gwen: mitt romney seized on the president's admissions and his was a short-term solution. >> if i'm president, we'll do our very best to have that kind of long-term solution that provides certainty and clarity for the people who come into this country, under their own coverage of the action of their parents. gwen: how far did the president's actions go today and how far didn't they, pierre? >> gwen, we're talking about roughly 800,000 people, age 16 to 30, and what this allows them to do is apply for work permits and stay here two years and if they don't get into any kind of trouble, they can be recertified. again, they're looking at students, people who have served in the military, again, people who have been brought here by their parents.
i think what was very interesting about this is even though they talked about children, as you can see by the age 16 to 30, we're talking about a lot of young adults who would be allowed to stay in the country. gwen: they're also not talking about a pathway to citizenship. but i wonder if that's a distinction with difference, if you're allowed to stay and be certified? >> look, there's no way you can describe this but a sweeping, sweeping act that the administration did today. again, you're talking about nearly a million people who like you just said for all intents and purposes are here unless they make some grave mistake and break the law. gwen: in fact the president said, for all intents and purposes they're americans without the paperwork. >> exactly. >> didn't the president say at some point about a year ago that he did not have the power to do this? what changed? >> it's slightly new. he did an interview with univision and he said he didn't have the executive authority that he couldn't do a by presential order to basically keep people from being deported.
we interviewed the secretary of homeland security today and she said i'm using prosecutorial discretion. in other words, i'm not going to do this because i have other priorities, and the priorities have been deporting criminals, people they consider to be possibly having tires to terrorists. in fact last year they set a record for deportations of nearly 400,000 people. gwen: this is an executive action and not an executive order. >> exactly. >> pierre, that's with the timing of this? it seemed to come out of nowhere on a friday afternoon. what was the reason for doing it now? >> i would like to think i covered the homeland security department pretty closely. i can tell you no clue this was coming. the republicans obviously today said this is pure, unadulterated politics. the administration said this is just an evolution of what they have been doing. look, for all practical purposes the administration does not deport children. they're not out hunting for children to deport them. they have been focused on are criminals, people who have been
ordered to be deported, who stayed in the country for whatever reason, and they simply did not have the manpower. you even heard republicans say we can't deport 12 million people en masse. that's not going to happen. but by putting this on paper and saying you could stay and you could have a work permit, that codify it's in a very meaningful way to a lot of people. >> what are the politics? you're talking about nearly a million people. these are not children. these are young adults. we have high unemployment. imagine a lot of people out there today are thinking those are people competing for my jobs and jobs that i'm looking for. >> look, this is a white is, hot issue. you're likely to see not only a political fire fight about this but possibly a legal challenge as well. i mean this could well end up in the supreme court as many of the other immigration issues are headed towards that way as well. gwen: in the newsroom tonight, jim sense enburner and other republicans said this is just amnesty, this is a backdoor way to let people take american
jobs. but i'm also curious about whether this is something the white house took into account because you don't hear mitt romney using that same language. or mark rubio using that same language. they seem to go after the process more than the actual act. >> the symbolism here is probably what's important to the administration just from talking to different pep that look, if you're trying to appeal to a community during an election cycle and you're saying, look, we're going to take the pressure off the young people who are in school, who are for all intents and purposes doing the right thing, they're saying officially we're taking you guys off the table. but again on the employment issue and on the political issue, this is an issue people feel so deeply about. gwen: and also the fact a lot of the people 15 to 30 are serving in the armed forces. also trying to make the sympathy point on that as well. thanks, pierre. immigration, as you can tell, is one of government's most
reliably hot-button issues. if you add to that guns, national security and boating rights, you begin to see why the department of justice is washington's lightning rod. attorney general eric holder has become the face of that conflict, especially when he takes action, often when he does not. it all came to a head this week on capitol hill, didn't it, tom? >> gwen, this week they're calling for his head. it's got like 100 members of congress saying eric holder should resign. and next week eric holder faces a possible vote on whether he should be held in contempt for not having cooperated enough with congress. basically his republican critics are angry at him for what he's done by going up against arizona and florida on the immigration and voter rights issue. and also what they say for what he hasn't done. they say he's not been forthright in investigating this gun sting called fast and furious. and the most recent example they're saying that eric holder is covering up for the
administration when it comes to the national security leagues that have come out in the last few days. gwen: let's talk about that. didn't he appoint two u.s. prosecutors to investigate those leaks? >> he did. republicans say he did it belatedly after there was a great deal of pressure on him. these leaks did produce a lot of anger on both republican and democratic side. i have talked to people in the national security community who are very upset by them as well. the administration says it was very upset by these leaks and yet there was a lag before those prosecutors were appointed. the other big issue is that republicans just trust eric holder. they don't him to keep his hands up the investigation. they say it should have been a special council taking charge of this investigation because then they would have -- the special council would have subpoena powers and would be able to act independently of eric holder. >> what would happen, we have seen in this administration more leak prosecutions than any previous one. what would happen if they caught
somebody? and what would be the consequences then? >> you know, these are criminal prosecutions. but the truth is it's almost impossible to prosecute someone successfully for leaks because classified -- leaking classified information is not a crime. it's only a crime under the espionage act of 1917 if you can show that the leaker was actually out to hurt the united states or help a foreign government. that's a very high bar. when there have been other leak investigations, and there have been several as you say, six in this administration, you know, they sometimes end up with other charges. remember scooter libby was actually not charged with i think leaking classified information. he was charged with obstruction of justice and making false statements. so sometimes it can end up in other charges. you know, i get the feeling people just want to know who did the leaking and they want to have an investigation just to sort of answer that question, whether it results in any kind of successful prosecution or not. >> the theory seems to be if there was a leak, that it was somebody trying to kind of buff
up the president's image. what exactly would the damage to national security have been of the information that was leaked? >> well, the two cases where that is most clear is in the leaking of the story, the news that there was an informant inside al qaeda in yemen, who tipped off the united states in his allies to a bomb plot. as a result of that, that informant had to be extracted from yemen. now, if the identity of that whole story had been kept quiet, maybe that informant would still be there. there's also a concern other governments will not trust the united states so much if there's a pattern of leaking. so there are some serious concerns here about what the implications would be. now, the -- probably the most egregious leak in a sense is the news that the united states was behind this cyber weapon against iran because what that did, was
what that confirmation of that fact meant is that the united states is now seen as an aggressor in cyberspace. no one else had ever used a cyber weapon in an offensive way before so now all of the u.s. adversaries can say the united states is out to use cyberspace in a military way. that could really hurt the united states internationally. >> tom, a lot of people in washington in an investigation like this are about to become very uncomfortable, journalists and people in the government. give us a sense of what might happen to folks. >> well, what normally would happen in a leak investigation like this is you would first determine all of the people that had access to that information, that could be a big, a big universe of people. gwen: all not here -- not all in the united states necessarily? >> well, they are certainly focused on people in the administration right now. particularly the white house. >> particularly the white house. they would be subject to lie
detector tests. they would be subject to extensive investigations. it could be quite uncomfortable. gwen: ok. thank you, tom. with all of their might, both president obama and governor romney were trying to keep the focus on the economy this week. today romney embarked on a battleground bus tour in new hampshire. >> he said that everyone in america deserves a fair shot. you know, i could not agree more. absolutely agree with him on that. let me ask you this, do you think -- do you think when we pass on or when he passes on trillions of dollars of additional debt to our kids, that our kids are getting a fair shot? >> no! gwen: yesterday the president was in ohio. >> though we will have many differences over the course of this campaign, there's one place where i stand in complete agreement with my partner, this election is about our economic future.
gwen: they agree. we're about to see the outlines of combat here, aren't we? >> in fact, i think it was really very clear in ohio with these two speeches, the president was set to give a big economic speech, which i think everyone recognized was also an effort to sort of regain his footing -- gwen: 54 minutes long. it was at least big. >> exactly. at times it sounded like a state of the union address. but what happened right before that, the president is in cleveland, mitt romney is in cincinnati. could ohio be a big swing state? so just before that speech, mitt romney comes and gives his own speech basically saying don't listen to that man. he's just trying to cover up his own failures with fancy rhetoric . but what i found really interesting about the speech, and, again, it was state of the union speech long, were a couple of things. one i thought there was a real contrast between the barack obama of four years ago, who was
supposed to be this figure who would transcend politics and bring people together to find their common ground. and this barack obama, who was saying look, i have a vision, mitt romney has a vision. they are absolutely irreconcilable and you the voters are going to have to pick up. in fact the new line in the speech was break that stalemate. gwen: isn't it impossible for someone actually seeking re-election to present themselves as the fresher -- fresh of breath air? and maybe that's part of his problem. >> it is he's also no longer in this environment able to present himself as the guy who can bring people together. so he has to, number one, defend his record. and number two, convince people that there would actually be a better path out towards prosperity with his formula then with mitt romney? >> how concerned are democrats about the president's prospects?
>> democrats are very concerned about the president's prospects because this has been a difficult couple of weeks, starting with the disappointing jobs numbers friday before last. and continuing through a set of gasps on the part of the president, surrogates like bill clinton being off message, you know, he's under fire from people in his own party. and so what you have on the part of a lot of senior democrats is a real sudden fear. i mean, like three months ago, even two months ago, they figured mitt romney was enough of a flawed candidate and the economy was improving enough that barack obama had a clear path to re-election. i don't think they think that anymore. >> another big difference between this year and 2008 is in 2008 president barack obama, candidate obama, had a big financial advantage over his opponent. and that has reversed or is in the process of being reversed in
some ways. >> that's right. as of this week he had done more than 160 fund-raisers and that was more than twice as many as george w. bush had done at this point in his own re-election campaign. gwen: that compares how to mitt romney? >> mitt romney has been also pretty active on the fund raising circuit as well. one thing that is different is that barack obama campaign says we are absolutely sure that we are going to be outspent this time. in part primarily, i think, because the republicans have such an advantage on the super pac side, those supposedly independent, unlimited pacs that are out there essentially to run negative adds. and we saw this week that sheldon attleson, las vegas casino magnet, who instrumental to keeping newt gingrich on life support said he will throw $10 million on the pile for mitt romney.
>> he had been giving a speech on the economy to try to set the agenda and then today with surprise announcement on immigration, can he keep his message clearer to people or is he stepping all over it? >> i think these are two different things. i think this is an effort to box mitt romney in with a constituency that really matters in about two-thirds of those dozen or states that are up for grabs this time. >> which ones? gwen: colorado, nevada. but they're also with a group that is already leaning very heavily towards barack obama and theoretically could be open. >> and people in the republican party as well thinking demographics are against the party in the long run. gwen: we will see some of that play out against next week. we will be watching that too. moving on, a couple months ago u.s. and russian leaders were putting the best face possible on their post cold war relationship. no more as the international community searches for a way to end the bloodshed in syria. russia has become key to any
solution. >> we believe that the situation is spiraling towards civil war and it's now time for everyone in the international community, including russia, and all security council members to speak to assad with a unified voice. and insist that the violence stop. gwen: as the u.s. ratchets up pressure, and that's what that was, pressure, president obama and putin prepare to meet in mexico on monday. how did things get so awkward between these two superpowers so fast? >> it has been a real quick change. although some things were always there. when president obama came to do with russia was vet the relationship. things were very compact after the georgia war of 2008. he wanted things back on a normal footing. he had as a partner president dmitry medvedev, president putin's successor and predecessor now as he's returned
to the creme len. and -- kremlin and they managed to put some tension behind them. they signed a arms control treaty, opened a supply route to afghanistan and they agreed on sanctions on iran. but now they're hitting some more fundamental issues and truth of the matter is, russia and the united states have fundamentally different values and interests and you're seeing it in this syria debate right now. gwen: in part because they're so tied, in russia's case, so tied to his a sad and the u.s. has gone way out on the limb and said he's got to go? >> they're tied to assad and don't want to give the americans one more chance to meddle in another country. it's not so much like like assad, they hate the idea of americans telling other countries who should be their leaders. think about how to looks for president putin. he just returned to office in the kremlin. outside his office he sees tens of thousands of protesters. they're not violent the way they are in syria but the idea that some other country could come in and say, you're no longer a
legitimate leader. the top tigs has the right to change leadership and we are going to tell you that strikes a very bad note in the kremlin right now. >> what exactly could russia do? >> that's a good question. americans put so much tension on the idea russia is the main, as if putin could snap his fingers and suddenly things would be different. i think it's questionable actually to how much control they would have if they chose to push assad out. they went -- the americans had this idea it could be like a yemen situation, they create an easy transition that doesn't involve a lot of violence. nobody's sure who would come in afterwards. gwen: like on egypt this week. >> likely so on egypt this week and libya. remember, libya is a sore point for the russians. >> peter, you mentioned russians have been helpful in getting supplies into afghanistan. that's all the more important now because pakistan is now allowing supplies to come in. is that -- does that explain this kind of weird disdense between the pentagon and state department this week in talking
about whether russia was supplying helicopters or not? gwen: weird dissidents is a kind way of putting it. >> very kind. secretary clinton saying putin supplying attack helicopters to assad sounds tough, raises the pressure of the pentagon. well, yeah, there are three helicopters that have been sent back to russia for refurbishment and russia returned them under contract. gwen: why? >> she's trying to raise the pressure on them and there's a weird disdinse here and there's irony the biggest success of the reset is also the biggest problem. now we need them. we need russian air corps we put in place to supply our war against the tall began and afghanistan. they can find another way if russia cut them off, but it wouldn't be easy. so right now there's a limit to how much pressure we're able to observe. >> peter, what's russia's role in pressuring iran? >> very good question. starting monday even as president putin and president obama are meeting in mexico, representatives of the big international powers will be
meeting in moscow on the question of iran with iran's representatives and what the administration hopes is that by having a meeting in moscow, it gives an incentive to the russians to start putting pressure on iran to make concessions on its nuclear program, that they have an investment in success here because they're going to be the host of the meeting. gwen: we're going to be watching closely that meeting because it will be the first time we have seen presidents obama with president putin. in fact preps putin blew him off on that trip to camp david a couple weeks ago. this will be body language time. >> very interesting. the first meeting is when putin was prime minister in july 2009. tough meeting. president obama opened it with an offhand comment about american relations and putin gave him an hour-long harangue. gwen: harangue watch. thanks, everybody. the confrontation has to end here but we will pick up where we left off online on the "washington week" webcast extra. you can find that at pbs.org/"washington week," along with my blog about civility or lack thereof in the public square.
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